One-pot backpacking meals are a satisfying and low-cost way to eat well on backpacking trips. Made with Knoors rice sides, noodles, pasta, stuffing, wheat cereal, or oatmeal, some added protein like tuna, chicken, bacon, or sausage, or nuts and dried fruit they’re very easy to cook and there’s very little cleanup required. They’re also easy to assemble with ingredients from any small town supermarket or gas station/food mart on the trail.
Simple to Prepare, Simple to Clean
With all the attention given to freeze-dried, dehydrated, freezer-bag, and no-cook backpacking meals, you may have sworn off any kind of cooking beyond boiling hot water. But the time required to make a one-pot backpacking meal is often less than those other methods. For example, most Mountain House meals take 10-12 minutes to rehydrate and Good To-Go meals take 20 minutes, while the one-pot meals I like to make only take between 5 and 10 minutes to simmer after the initial boil. Clean-up can also be as easy as swishing water in the pot if you stick to soupy meals that don’t stick to the sides of your cookpot like meals with cheese, cream sauces, or mashed potatoes.
Here are a few of my favorites – I call them “Glop Meals” because I generally keep them soupy and avoid cooking all the water off.
- Knorr Rice Side Chicken Flavor + Can of tuna packed in olive oil or foil tuna
- Ramen noodles + instant miso + foil chicken + dehydrated onions + dried seaweed
- Three packs of instant wheat cereal + bag with a mix of cashews, dried apricot pieces, and raisins
- Three packs of instant oatmeal + bag with a mix of dried dates, cranberries, etc.
- Dried tortellini + olive oil + salt
Best Backpacking Stoves for Simmering One-Pot Meals
The key to making a one-pot meal is having a stove that can simmer a meal on a low boil. You don’t necessarily have to simmer everything for the entire time but it makes the outcome more consistent if you can. (see Forget Boiling: How to Cook Pasta and Save Cooking Fuel)
Simmering, to be clear is a low, barely perceptible boil. The key to simmering lies in being able to control your stove’s flame mechanically, in the case of a canister or white gas stove, or by limiting the amount and rate of fuel consumption if you use alcohol, Esbit, or wood for cooking. Stoves that are only intended for boiling water like the MSR Windburner, the MSR Reactor, or the Jetboil Flash aren’t good for simmering and tend to go out if you turn them down too low. But standalone canister stoves (without dedicated cookpots) like the MSR Pocket Rocket 2, the Soto Amicus, or the Soto Windmaster are good canister stoves that can simmer.
You can also simmer with alcohol stoves that have simmer rings, which let you regulate flame intensity by limiting the flow of oxygen available. For example, the Trangia alcohol stove comes with a simmer ring, Trail Designs sells a simmer ring for their 12-10 stove, and Flat Cat Gear sells a simmer ring for their alcohol stoves.
Simmering with Esbit takes a little practice but you can do it by breaking an Esbit cube into smaller pieces that generate less heat. Wood is also pretty easy to simmer with, especially with a backpacking wood stove, by limiting the amount of wood you feed into the fire or moving your pot away from the hottest part.
Backpacking CookPots for One-Pot Meals
I think the best cookpots for one-pot meals are 800-1000 ml titanium or anodized aluminum pots with folding handles, so you can hold the pot and eat from it without burning your hand. It helps if the pot lid has strainer holes to release pressure and avoid boilovers and if it has an easy way to remove the lid by hand when hot, without grippers or any extra tools. Liquid measuring marks are also useful so you know how much water to add to a meal.
Anodized aluminum cook pots work well because they distribute heat more evenly across the bottom of a pot than titanium, which is important if you’re cooking with a small canister stove burner head. They also hold their heat better when you take them off the stove. Titanium pots still work fine but they are usually thinner and more prone to burning if solids sink to the bottom of the pot while cooking. Frequent stirring can help ameliorate that risk though.
If you prefer anodized aluminum, the GSI Halulite 1.1L Boiler (Pot) has a very sturdy locking handle that works great and can fit a 220-gram (8 oz) medium-size fuel canister. But the pot I use most often is a titanium 1L Evernew Pasta Pot (size medium) which has folding handles, a strainer lid and graduated liquid markings. I mainly use it with an Esbit stove, but it can also fit an 8 oz gas canister if I want to use a canister stove instead. Both these pots can fit a stove and my fire-making toolkit, so they pack up as self-contained cooking systems.
If eating one pot backpacking meals sounds like an interesting way to make your backpacking meals more enjoyable, you will probably need to upgrade your stove and cook pot if your cook system can only boil water. Cooking actual food in a pot requires a stove or heat source capable of simmering and a pot that is large enough to hold about two cups of water and your meals’ ingredients. There are many existing lightweight options that fulfill these requirements and can serve double duty for boiling water when you feel like having a freeze-dried or dehydrated backpacking meal instead.